Science committee inspires discussion

Disgruntled science students now have a body of their peers to promote dialogue on issues ranging from course credit to curriculum.

The Yale College Council’s new Science and Quantitative Reasoning Standing Committee, which announced its student members this week, will give Yalies an opportunity to directly advise the administration about ways to improve the quality of science education for undergraduates. William Segraves, associate dean of science education, said the purpose of the committee is to provide an additional forum for students to give their input on science and quantitative-reasoning education at Yale.

“Faculty and administrators who have been working on the enhancement of science and quantitative-reasoning education were already talking about what would be the best way to formalize ongoing input from students when I was approached by the YCC this fall,” he said. “Out of the resulting discussions came the idea to set up a standing committee to advise the dean’s office and the relevant faculty councils on science and quantitative-reasoning matters.”

YCC Vice President Marissa Brittenham ’07 said the impetus came from the concerns of several students within the council who wanted to see increased exploration of a variety of science-related issues, including major requirements, laboratory requirements and premed requirements.

“This year, some science majors became really interested in discussing these issues, but there was no institutionalized structure in which to do it,” Brittenham said.

Irving Ye ’07, a YCC representative and one of the original students who met with Segraves to discuss the inception of the committee, said some of the students’ major concerns included the amount of credit students receive for taking lab classes as well as the desire to see more non-science majors take science classes. He also said many students think it is necessary to motivate students to explore the sciences by making them more accessible.

“If we move some more classes off the hill, we’re reduce the negative stigma of Science Hill and the long walk up there,” he said.

YCC Treasurer Emery Choi ’07 said Segraves’ new position as dean of sciences contributed to the ease of setting up such a body.

“We’ve never had a dean of sciences before,” he said. “Marissa and the other representatives on the YCC who’ve taken on this issue really deserve a lot of credit for everything they’ve done, but I think it’s safe to say that Dean Segraves also played a major role in making this become a reality.”

Segraves said the new committee is part of a large-scale effort to improve the sciences outlined by the Committee on Yale College Education in its 2003 report. He said his office’s ultimate goal is to strengthen the quality of Yale’s science and engineering education to accompany the major curricular changes made in recent years. Even before the CYCE began its work, he said, student input had been a valuable tool in shaping and directing the improvements made to the science program and this committee is a way to formalize that contribution.

“We’ve made a lot of progress to prepare for the new distribution requirements, to create new courses, including freshman seminars, to enhance existing courses, to expand tutoring opportunities, and to continue to expand opportunities for undergraduates to participate in research,” he said. “We have relied extensively on student input in carrying out all these initiatives, and it seems only natural that we would continue to do so.”

Though other universities may already have similar committees, Segraves said he does not think Yale is behind the curve at all.

“There are already committees [at Yale] that deal with the sciences in other areas,” he said. “This is not even the first time to have student input. It’s just another mechanism to help make sure students have a way to communicate.”

Segraves said he looks forward to meeting with the students several times during the remainder of the semester about a variety of issues.

“I expect that the agenda will be largely student-driven,” he said. “There will be times when we’re looking for student feedback on specific questions, but students on the committee will be able to bring up any issue related to science and QR education.”

Although Brittenham was instrumental in setting up the committee, she will not be serving on it. But she said she will keep up with its progress and would like to see it facilitate discussion between students and administrators in the sciences.

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